Last Thursday, the city of Whittier made a bold move regarding a local nature preserve. Whittier purchased the land for this preserve, along with the mineral rights, using $9.3 million in funds opened up to the city by the passage of Proposition A. Proposition A stipulated that any land purchased must be used for conservation purposes, and thus a preserve was established.
However, now the preserve is on the table as a source of revenue, as Whittier and Matrix Oil Company are eyeing it for development and drilling. The arrival of bulldozers prompted outrage in environmentalists, as well as those convinced that this is in direct violation of Proposition A. Los Angeles County is coming down hard on Whittier, saying that the city doesn’t have the authority to decide what happens to the land, since it was purchased with county bonds. However, the city points out that the bond does not take into account mineral rights, which Whittier owns exclusively. Beyond the legal nuances of who owns what, there is also the issue of what parties would benefit from the newfound revenue, which could be upwards of $100 million per year.
The city is obviously pushing for this to beef up its budget, but the county stresses that any financial rewards should go to county taxpayers, not the city itself. So who is right? Will the county win out, or will Whittier be allowed to start drilling and reap the payoff? What is the environmental impact of this plan? What are the pros and cons of each side?
Gloria Molina, Los Angeles County Supervisor, 1st District (includes Whittier Hills)
Jim Markman, shareholder in the Public Law Department and Water Rights and Water Law Practice Group at law firm Richards, Watson & Gershon, currently representing the city of Whittier on this issue